Students of Color

At Gies Business Career Services, we know that cultural identity is an important consideration for many students of color when it comes to their career journey. We’re here to support you in being your full, authentic self as you navigate the world of work—from discussing questions or concerns you may have about the job/internship search, to helping you connect with alumni and professionals who share your identities.

Some unique concerns that students and alumni of color have conveyed include:

  • how to deal with unconscious bias and stereotyping (implicit bias) throughout their career journey
  • expectations with respect to hair and presentation at work
  • being the only or one of a few person(s) of color
  • shifting the language you use or the way you express yourself in your conversations (codeswitching)


  • What do you want to do for your career?
  • What interests and skills can you contribute to a workplace?
  • What interested or skills would you or do you want to develop?
  • Who do you want around you?
  • Where do you want to be in the world?
  • How does your family or community impact the process?

As a person of color, your background has given you a set of experiences and a perspective that can benefit any organization. Reflect on how your point of view could benefit an employer, and highlight those benefits when applying for a job or internship.

Here are some examples of how you might discuss your identity in the job or internship search process:

Resume: Highlight academic and professional diversity-related connections you have (for example, being a member of a minority professional organization or a diversity-related club).

Cover letter: You can identify as a diversity student in your cover letter and explain why your diversity could be an important asset in the job you are applying for.

Interview: Ask your interviewer about the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion or explain your desire to work for an organization that values diversity.

Identifying and Evaluating Organizations

Assessing fit is an important part of the consideration process for potential employers or graduate/professional schools.


The job and internship search is often thought of as being one way; employers evaluate you and your skills for a position at their company. However, it is just as important for you, as a potential employee of an organization, to evaluate the culture and fit of the organization.

When it comes to the workplace, culture refers to the character of an organization, which is the sum of its values, traditions, interactions, and beliefs. The culture of an organization is as important as the product or services being offered. It speaks to the organization’s retention, engagement, performance, and levels of employee satisfaction in the workplace.

As you start to explore your fields of interest, take time to research the company culture by visiting the company website and conduct informational interviews with professionals working in your field of interest.

  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statements: Look for a statement on the organization’s website which can provide you with insight into their commitment and efforts toward a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.
  • People:  Is the staff diverse?  Are there mentorship programs?
  • Workplace Practices: What are recruiting and selection practices?  Are there diversity pipeline programs.  What are the workplace traditions?
  • Affinity Groups/Student Organizations: Affinity groups create a space for employees of similar backgrounds or interests to build connection. Similarly, graduate and professional schools may have identity-based student groups. These groups can be a great source of networking contacts to learn more about an organization.
  • Workplace Diversity Rankings: Several publications publish annual rankings of their top organizations for workplace diversity including Fortune, Forbes, and Comparably, to name a few. These types of lists typically focus on large companies and the methodology is different for each, but they can provide some insight into the experience of people of color who have worked for the employers on the list.

Connect to alumni and other professionals of color

Men and women of color, who identify similarly to you, are very likely already doing the jobs you want to do, for the companies you want to work for. They have gone through what you are now about to go through, and have accumulated wisdom about what it takes to thrive in the professional world. You can learn from the experience of those who have come before. But how do you find them? And when you do find them, how do you connect with them?

Start by asking friends, family members, professors, and classmates if they know people they can connect you with. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people you find through Gies connections and social media, even if you haven’t met before!

Below is a list of Companies on Handshake to get you started:

50+ Black-Owned and Led Companies for Students to Follow

Cultural Expression in the Job and Internship Search

Hairstyles, attire, and head coverings can all be very personal expressions of your cultural or religious identity. As you begin to engage in a job/internship search, you may have questions about how those expressions will be perceived by potential employers. Reflect on what matters most to you as you are considering a future workplace.

What will it mean to you to work in an environment where you may have to change or suppress meaningful expressions of your identity and how does that align with your overall career goals?

Navigating Authenticity in What You Wear

Our identities can play a large role what we wear and how we’re perceived by others. Being a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ, or a member of a minority religious or ethnic culture can mean facing pressure to dress more formally due to others’ perceptions of your professionalism. This disparity is unjust; however, it is up to each individual to decide how to navigate choices about professional dress and appearance under that reality.

Here are some tips that may be helpful in doing so:

• Be comfortable enough to interview or focus at work. The advice blog Corporette emphasizes that “if you’re more confident and feel more professional in” clothes that differ from a standard interview outfit (such as a skirt suit), then “this may be the time to deviate from the norm” by wearing pants or a jacket that help you feel comfortable and confident.

Find mentors and advocates in leadership roles who have your back and can speak to your competence and skills.

• Determine for yourself what your comfort level is for openly challenging the status quo (or not).

• Exercise your best judgment when it comes to choosing clothing or making other decisions about your appearance for an interview or the workplace. Ask A Manager’s Alison Green shares in her advice about personal appearance that what matters most is looking “polished and professional”—whether that means wearing makeup or not, conforming to gender standards or not, or other considerations.

How to Handle Workplace Discrimination

Workforce discrimination occurs in many different ways. There are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age. Employers are responsible for complying with the law, but you are responsible for making sure you know and protect your rights.

Illegal Interview Questions

Did you know that it is against the law for employers to ask you certain questions in a job interview? To learn more about what topics are off-limits and what to do if you are asked about them, see “5 Illegal Interview Questions and How to Dodge Them.”

Discrimination in the workplace

If you experience discrimination once you have started a job, here are some tips and information about dealing with employment discrimination.

Job/Internship Tools:

Tip: Search for roles and opportunities in Handshake with employers looking to hire diverse candidates. Opportunities include national organizations as well as Black-Owned and Led Companies.

Recruitment Programs:

Helpful Campus Resource and Links:

Gies College of Business National Association of Black Accountants

Gies College of Business Minority Business Students Association

UIUC Office of Minority Student Affairs

UIUC Cultural & Resource Centers

UIUC Cultural Student Groups

Gies College of Business Access and Multicultural Engagement

Black Spaces at UIUC

Additional Resources:

Illinois Diversity Council

You’re Welcome CU


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